Friday, April 15, 2011

I Heard Of A Man

Beauty is where you find it. Often unexpected and sometimes as fleeting as a furious flight down the rail to win the Kentucky Derby. Age and distance and gravity can alter the beauty, but the memory of the moment remains just as beautiful - - perhaps, even more so - - as the years pass and attempts to recapture that beautiful moment fall short.

It was unexpected beauty I encountered on Thursday night after strolling down the dingy staircase to the subterranean cave that is the Dakota Tavern. The venue is an urban honkytonk. A narrow bar stretches down the left-hand side of the room where the bar stools are carved out of old whisky barrels. Mounted on the back wall of the room, behind the stage where singers perform, is a steer's head. The walls are decorated, as much as one can decorate a room that looks like it was left in its current state a hundred dusty years ago, with posters of past concerts, pilfered hub caps and even an old wash board. It is a bar where many a drink and drunk has spilled.

Stooping on the stage of the Dakota, tinkering with a sound check, was the huddled figure of Sean Rowe. He is a man of many cloaks. His stocky figure is covered in grey pants, his own concert t-shirt, itself concealed by an unflattering unbuttoned blue shirt. His face is a thicket of fuzz - - rather like Tom Waits with a playoff beard. An acoustic guitar hides his belly and as he prepares to sing, his eyes narrow, defying you to find a face amongst the layers of his visage. He is the picture of disheveled and when he lumbered to the microphone my friend Lori whispered softly across the table, "He scares me."

The mysterious joy of Rowe was revealed when he strummed the opening chords of Surprise and boomed in a rusty baritone.

You were nothing but the fragrance of an old dream
There was just time playing tricks on my mind
You escaped from all the pictures that I remembered
You come back as a bottle of wine

With music as his key the guitar unlocked the layers of a man who came to bare his soul. For a big man, Rowe shuffled back and forth with nimble nuance and such was the absence of white noise that but for his singing and strumming one could have heard a feather land on felt. It was the very definition of stunned silence.

Surprise - Sean Rowe

Into his second song, a raw cry named Wet, the room changed. People sat still at their tables focused on the stage with mouth agape. Others sought eye contact for confirmation of this moment.

Another town, another school a new trailer park
And I could burn these books alive I'm freaking out

The sheer strength of Rowe's voice commandeered the room. The sound was rich and tormented yet it made you smile.

Another year, another inch I will be tall enough
And if he hits you again, I will be your man I will put him out

It is that rare moment where you want so badly to help - - to somehow ease the pain that led to these lyrics.

You don't need to cut your life on these razor blades or these kitchen knives
you are beautiful

Forgotten now was the disheveled figure huddled on a stage. Eyes open, mouth open and light burst from the stage washing over an audience captivated by his story. The song hinges on a line that is repeated again and again.

when your heart is broke, when your eyes are wet

Each time he howls the line is louder than the last

when your heart is broke, when your eyes are wet

Across the room, a man sits with his back to the wall crying.

when your heart is broke, when your eyes are wet

The refrain lingers on into the next song and hours after the show is over. It was a moment. An unexpected, timeless and heartfelt moment. And it was beautiful.

The remainder of the set was as atmospheric as expected. Songs about travelling and cars and the road. Songs about nature and of love. Unexpected stage banter delved into a long story of Rowe's childhood obsession with The Incredible Hulk and his attempts to tear his pyjamas off in green-tinged anger.

Rowe, a native of Troy in upstate New York, talked about his Canadian influences and immediately settled on Leonard Cohen which led to a colourful cover of Cohen's Chelsea Hotel #2. As he sang to a room full of admirers, many of them female, and one in particular at my table, it dawned on me that Rowe could play the role of anti-hero in my favourite Cohen poem.

I heard of a man
who says words so beautifully
that if he only speaks their name
women give themselves to him.

If I am dumb beside your body
while silence blossoms like tumors on our lips.
it is because I hear a man climb stairs and clear his throat outside the door.

Indeed, Rowe sang his words beautifully and had my Amy ran off into the night with this anti-folk singer following the show, those of us in the room would have understood.

I woke up this morning and searched Youtube for videos of Rowe performing Wet. There are only two and while both contain their own unique beauty, neither truly captures the potent mixture of sight and sound from Thursday's show. Beauty can be as fleeting as that moment a horse crosses the wire first, and although that moment may never come again, an unlikely beauty existed on a Thursday night in a boozy basement bar just long enough to last a lifetime.

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Wet by Sean Rowe

Listen to more of Sean Rowe on Myspace.

1 comment:

SaratogaSpa said...

and he grew up a stone's throw from the Spa